California Legalizes Some Texting While Driving, Sort Of

from the will-it-reduce-accidents? dept

A few years ago, California outlawed texting while driving. On the whole, this is one of those things that certainly seems like a good idea. I'm still amazed that anyone -- law or no law -- thinks that texting while driving is a reasonable thing to do. It's a clear death wish. That said, like many laws, there appear to be unintended consequences. A few studies have suggested that states that put in place anti-texting while driving laws actually saw an increase in accidents compared to nearby states that had no such ban. How does that make sense? Well, it's because the law doesn't seem to actually get everyone to stop texting while driving. Instead, what it does is make them hide what they're doing, which generally means putting it down in their lap. Before that, they could hold it up and still see the road, even if they weren't paying close enough attention to it.

None of this is defending the ridiculously dangerous practice of texting while driving, but merely acknowledging that the law intended to make the roads safer could actually do the opposite.

With all that said, it's interesting to see that California quietly legalized some forms of texting while driving last week with very little fanfare. Basically, it allows totally hands-free texting -- such as dictating messages via a bluetooth headset or a car service like OnStar. Of course, unsurprisingly when dealing with lawmakers and lawmaking, there's a lot of confusion over the new rules -- with some wondering if it meant that something like Siri was now legal while driving. That resulted in the following amusing passage in the SJ Merc article about this, in which the staff of the sponsor of the bill is left to admit that no one there has an iPhone, so they didn't even really think about Siri:
On Friday, after much head-scratching and acknowledging nobody in Miller's office owns a Siri-equipped iPhone 4S, the assemblyman's aides concluded it will still be illegal to use your actual phone to text behind the wheel -- even by speaking the message directly into Siri.

The California Highway Patrol confirms that just the act of turning on the phone or selecting the phone's hands-free text app, like pushing the Siri button or Google apps on Android phones, is enough to warrant flashing lights in your rearview mirror and a $100-plus ticket. The same thing goes for using your phone to read texts.

"The phone can't be in your hands," said CHP spokeswoman Jaime Coffee. "Hands-free is the key."
Either way, this seems to suggest, once again, the difficulty in regulating any particular technology in a rapidly changing technology market. I still don't understand why we don't just do the simple thing: make dangerous and distracted driving illegal, and just teach people the human consequences of doing something moronic like texting while driving.

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  1. identicon
    Lord Binky, 17 Jul 2012 @ 11:35am

    What was that noise? It sounded like an point flapping over me...

    If hitting a button on your phone is bad, I suppose we should disable all cruise control as well. You have to hit a button to initiate that as well. In fact, steering wheels should require you strap your hands to them, such that you can never take your hands off while driving, for your protection of course. Well, that's really not reasonable, I suppose it should just simply be 2 deadman switches on the steering wheel that kill the trigger the breaks when you release either of them. That is the real issue isn't it? People's hands being ON the wheel. Regardless of where the person is looking, as long as their hands are on the wheel, everyone is safe.

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